It took decades for Andy Bey to become an overnight success, but in the mid-'90s he was finally recognized as a premier talent, and recorded a handful of finely crafted discs. A true jazz singer avoiding monochromatic crooning, his style is deeply blue-hued, silky smooth but never slick. This live club date at Birdland in New York City was recorded in 1997, around the time of his overdue success, but not released until a full decade later. The pacing of the program is a little up-and-down, which is atypical of the normally mellow Bey. He does sing more than his share of balladic material, and when he does, there is no more patient virtue expressed in all of jazz, his slight vibrato ruminating and tripping heartstrings. The title track and "Hey Love," the 4:00 A.M. mood for "On Second Thought," and the solo closer "Someone to Watch Over Me" dip into this dynamic, as drawn-out slow and steady as a daily sunset. To play this way may be the most difficult thing to do in music, but Bey is absolutely masterful. Like his parallel performing shadow Nat King Cole, Bey is also an excellent pianist, and a true player of the instrument.
Coming off his Grammy-nominated 2013 album, The World According to Andy Bey, vocalist/pianist Andy Bey delivers the equally compelling 2014 release Pages from an Imaginary Life. As with its predecessor, Pages finds the jazz iconoclast returning to his roots with a set of American Popular Song standards done in a ruminative, stripped-down style. This is Bey, alone at the piano, delving deeply into the harmony, melody, and lyrics of each song. But don't let the spare setting fool you. Bey is a master of interpretation. In his seventies at the time of recording, and having performed over the years in a variety of settings from leading his own swinging vocal trio, to working with hard bop pioneer Horace Silver, to exploring the avant-garde with Archie Shepp, Bey has aged into a jazz oracle who doesn't so much perform songs as conjure them from somewhere in the mystical ether of his psyche.
Wow, we never thought we'd see this one reissued! But then again, Bey's had a nice comeback these days, and his work from the past more than deserves another look. Andy Bey was originally a member of the jazz group Andy & The Bey Sisters – but by this time, he'd gone solo, and had done vocals on righteous political albums by Gary Bartz and Horace Silver. The groove here is nice and jazzy, with some funky stuff thrown in, and Andy's voice has a weird off-kilter sound that's very hard to describe, but which is extremely haunting!
For some reason, the Jazz in Paris series has put together a collection of music featuring these three vocalists. Except for the fact that all three recorded in Paris, there appears to be little connection. The music is still excellent however. The first 8 tracks by Harold Nicholas show off his excellence in covering standards. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", with its last verse in French, is a highlight. June Richmond, accompanied by the Quincy Jones Orchestra, sings "I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues" through "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea". Excellent renditions all. The last two tracks, by Henry Bey and the Bey Sisters, are nice, but give only a small introduction to their music.
Criminally overlooked by academics, critics and purists who refuse to listening to anything outside of conventional jazz vernacular, Andy Bey's delivery on Experience and Judgment goes beyond anything he previously committed to tape, revealing a spiritual side that's punched up and supported by a jazz-funk ensemble. The album's opener "Celestial Blues" finds Bey delivering lines that wouldn't be out of place on Bill Withers records from this era, and the remainder of the album sounds similar to the works of such contemporaries as Roy Ayers and Gil Scott-Heron. It's soul soothing music that's been played with great reverence by the rare soul and funk community for years and rightly so, as Bey captures the essence of the soul world brilliantly, and fuses it into something that is uniquely his own.
Although the vocal trio Andy Bey & the Bey Sisters lasted 11 years, it wasn't as well documented as it should have been. The trio, which consisted of Andy Bey and his sisters Geraldine and Salome, was formed in 1956 and broke up in 1967 – and during that 11-year period, they only recorded three albums. The first was provided for RCA Victor in 1961, and the other two, Now! Hear! and 'Round Midnight, were recorded for Prestige in 1964 and 1965, respectively. In late 2000, those two Prestige dates were reissued on this excellent CD.